Rediscovered 1971 Interview — Henri Cartier-Bresson: Living and Looking

The New York Times’ Lens Blog just published a beautiful two-part series with journalist and filmmaker Sheila Turner-Seed interviewing Henri Cartier-Bresson in his Paris studio in 1971. The interview was only discovered in 2011. Not much to add. You have to read the whole thing for yourself. Straight-forward answers of a blessed photographer who never really liked to talk about photography.

Here is part one Looking and Living, here part two There Are No Maybes.

Most worthwhile quotes:

You have to respect your limitations.

Bankers Trust, New York City, 1960 | Henri Cartier-Bresson
Bankers Trust, New York City, 1960 | Henri Cartier-Bresson

Photography as I conceive it, well, it’s a drawing — immediate sketch done with intuition and you can’t correct it. If you have to correct it, it’s the next picture. But life is very fluid. Well, sometimes the pictures disappear and there’s nothing you can do. You can’t tell the person, “Oh, please smile again. Do that gesture again.” Life is once, forever.

Dedication of a portrait of Jefferson Davis by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Richmond, Va., 1960 | Henri Cartier-Bresson
Dedication of a portrait of Jefferson Davis by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Richmond, Va., 1960 | Henri Cartier-Bresson

And HCB on pre-digital photography consumerism and elitism:

There are necessities of life, and everything is getting more expensive in a consumer society. So the danger is that photography might become very precious — “Oh, a very rare print.” There’s not a very real place for it. But what does it mean? That preciousness is a sickness.

Why do photographers start giving numbers to their prints? It’s absurd. What do you do when the 20th print has been done? Do you swallow the negative? Do you shoot yourself? It’s the gimmick of money.

Independence Day, Aspen, Colorado, 1971 | Henri Cartier-Bresson
Independence Day, Aspen, Colorado, 1971 | Henri Cartier-Bresson

  • amalric

    yes, you destroy the negatives, so that the series can be kept short. Gallery owners have been known to do just that.

    HCB instead reminds that photography is a democratic art, an obscene proposition for the money laundererers who play with Leicas and Lunars…

  • Sam Kanga

    Was a photography nut in my early teens. I devoured everything in print at the time. Saw a photo by HCB and it changed my way of thinking about photography.

    In my opinion, his best work didn’t need captions – I thought that was great! (there were a few other photographers that that applied to as well). Almost everything else I was seeing was boring, prosaic, he showed me you could be subtle, aim for poetry. You can’t try to be subtle, it has to come from the subconscious.

    To keep this comment short, and not turn into a dissertation, I’ll stop here.

    Thanks
    Sam